CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The NFC champion Carolina Panthers have a $14 million decision to make.
The Panthers have until the NFL-imposed 4 p.m. EST Tuesday deadline to decide on whether to use the franchise tag on All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, who had a breakout season in 2015 and helped them reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years.
The team began negotiations with Norman's agents last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in hopes of reaching a long-term contract with the team's top cornerback. While talks are ongoing, the Panthers could use the franchise tag in the meantime essentially taking Norman off the free agent market.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has repeatedly said that using the franchise tag on Norman - a move that would pay him $13.952 million guaranteed in 2016 - is a possibility.
Gettleman said at a news conference last week in Indianapolis that he ''isn't in the business of developing players for other teams'' and wants to keep the team's core players together.
Norman was a fifth-round draft pick by the Panthers in 2012 out of Coastal Carolina and has settled nicely into a starter role after a bumpy start with Carolina.
''We are going to have the conversation and do the best we can. We are going to try to get a deal done,'' Gettleman said. ''If not, there are options, and maybe the tag gets used.''
Norman did not return phone calls Monday.
The 28-year-old Norman had four interceptions in the first four games of the 2015 season, returning two of those for touchdowns. One of those interceptions came when he leaped backward in the end zone and brought down a Luke McCown pass in the final minutes, helping Carolina secure a win against the New Orleans Saints and put Norman on the national radar.
After Norman was named NFC defensive player of the month for September teams rarely threw to his side of the field. Although he didn't intercept a pass the rest of the season, Norman was selected to his first Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro honors.
Opposing QBs had a 54.0 QB rating when throwing at Norman - the lowest allowed by all NFL corners.
Gettleman has used the franchise tag before.
He did it in 2014 on defensive end Greg Hardy, and the move turned out to be a disaster. Shortly after signing the tender, Hardy found himself in the middle of a domestic abuse case and the league eventually held him out of all but one game while investigating the issue. The Panthers didn't attempt to re-sign Hardy last season and he was joined the Dallas Cowboys as an unrestricted free agent.
If the Panthers use the franchise tag on Norman they can continue to negotiate a long-term deal with him until July 13.
If they can't sign him to a long-term deal before the season, Norman would play under the one-year contract
It shouldn't devastate their salary cap. They enter the offseason about $26 million under the league's 2016 salary cap and most of their top players are under contract for next season with the exception of All-Pro fullback Mike Tolbert.
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